With all of the big name releases coming out this season, it’s easy to overlook the potential gems that are ‘soft launching’ into Steam’s Early Access program. We’re taking a look at four titles that either just launched/updated or are launching in the next few days.
Primordials of Amyrion
Developed by Global Dodo Entertainment and published by Wiregames, Primordials of Amyrion is being designed for online play online only and doesn’t include any single player content. It’s a 1 vs 1 tug-of-war strategy game where you mix resource management with combat, while also engaging with familiar RTS tropes like the ability to upgrade your buildings.
With a strong fantasy theme, your units are divided among Primordials, champions/heroes and minions. While you can head straight into battle, you also have the ability to play the long game and build up your army and base with the aim of taking a long game approach – your enemy obviously dictating your decisions as you clash on the battlefield.
Although Primordials of Amyrion initially seems like a game you can easily jump into, there’s a surprising amount of strategic depth to the experience, with multiple ways to play. The fact that it’s slower paced than some of the MOBAs (which it, at first glance, looks like), helps in this regard. What doesn’t help is that the in-game tutorial isn’t great, and doesn’t do a great job of explaining the various mechanics and unit types – thus leaving you to figure things out by yourself. I’m hoping this is an area that the developers will improve over time.
I’m also keeping my fingers crossed for single player/bot functionality to help the game in case the player base doesn’t expand and you have to wait a bit for a match to start, but hopefully we’ll see a growth in the number of players in the next few months of Early Access.
Another strategy title is Dwarfheim, which doesn’t actually launch into Early Access until next week. Although it’s also focused in multiplayer, with an asymmetric competitive multiplayer called Conquest at the heart of the experience. It’s a 3 vs 3 mode in which you pick a character class and must cooperate in order to be successful, with distinct character classes and the ultimate goal of ransacking the other team’s town hall.
Players are divided between three different classes, with builders, miners and warriors available to choose from. If you’re a builder you play a role in the defensive portion of your team, building up and fortifying your base while also keeping your troops nourished and healthy through your farms and medical assistance. Warriors are your frontline, but also supply you with resources in the form of loot and keep your base safe while not out on a raid.
DwarfHeim wouldn’t be based on dwarves if there wasn’t a character class about mining though, and besides mining for resources they also play a role in combat as they can set traps and even rely on their skills to sabotage an enemy’s defenses and buildings – bringing an element of stealth to the game because miners don’t excel in full-on combat like warriors do.
Unlike a traditional RTS experience, you only control units within your own class, making teamwork essential. Upgrading units and weapons means you have to dig for rare materials, but this means you can’t take part in the offensive effort of the team as much. In our time with an early build, people were struggling and learning how to best assume their roles, making us believe this is a game that will flourish over time as teams start to grow together. There are single player modes available as well, which although they’re not as exciting and teamwork-based feel like a good way to get comfortable with the mechanics and classes of the game.
Dinosaurs are undeniably cool and we want them in videogames, right? The problem is that Jurassic Park came out way too soon for an “ooooh” type of videogame experience, and now that we have the horsepower they’re just not making movie tie-ins as much anymore. Welcome, Second Extinction, now in Early Access as a multiplayer-oriented dino-shooter.
And yes, I’m fully aware of Turok and games like ARK, but Turok looks primitive by today’s standards and ARK might look impressive but the gameplay never really grabbed me, with too much emphasis on crafting and not enough running away from giant dinosaurs. In Second Extinction from Systemic Reaction there is plenty of that, as earth is overrun with mutated dinosaurs – a bit like a post-apocalyptic Jurassic Park gone haywire situation, if you will.
Second Extinction supports single player gameplay on paper, but our experience so far has been that there’s little to no narrative to speak of and missions don’t scale very well to those playing solo, so for now it’s multiplayer where the real action is at. Gameplay is split up across various mission types, which so far have all been surprisingly lengthy, lasting about an hour to successfully complete. There’s a bit of a meta-game at work as well thanks to the “War Effort” feature that assesses the global threat level and acts accordingly with new events in the game, something that will be interesting to see over time (the game only just launched in Early Access).
Jurassic World Evolution was the first game to really give us those “oooohs” and “aaaaaahs” when it came to having dinosaurs in a videogame, but Second Extinction brings that experience to a frantic action shooter full of adrenaline. It’s visually impressive, with huge (as well as smaller) dinosaurs that move well and don’t seem to affect the in-game performance. The game feels like it is quite early in its development though, being somewhat unbalanced (especially in single player, but also among classes) and low on content, but the developers have clearly expressed wanting to build out their game together with their community of players.
Secret Government, by developer GameTrek and published by 1C, has actually been in Early Access for a while and was scheduled to launch into its 1.0 version next month. A recently revealed and ambitious roadmap has pushed that release back to March of 2021 though, giving the developers more time to add new features to this very interesting take on the grand strategy genre.
Rather than a more traditional way building up your empire, as we see in games like Grand Ages: Medieval, Secret Government is all about secret societies and their covert grasp on society as we know. It’s, narratively-speaking, the kind of stuff that fans of Dan Brown novels will certainly enjoy.
Secret Government isn’t narrative-driven, but does work around historic scenarios. Where the original Early Access release focused on the revolution in 17th century England, the most recent update takes the game to North America, where in the “New World” campaign you can help decide how the conflict between the United Kingdom and its colonies will play out.
You don’t do this by picking one of the two sides as you traditionally would in a game, but you only indirectly affect the proceedings. You can plant someone in a government to help swing decisions in your favor, or assume complete control over a leadership. You can’t make their decisions for them, but you can definitely push them in the right direction from the shadows. The latter element is important though, because if your influence is found out you take a hit and need to rebuild your brotherhood again, shrouded by secrecy.
It’s this kind of intrigue where Secret Government works best as a game, and the most recent update has added a number of new mechanics to help you bend a nation’s government to your will – for example by having someone cover your tracks from within said government. Another part of the game is all about conflict with other brotherhoods though, which still feels a bit out of place. If you know about them and they know about you, then someone’s not doing a good job, and the game loses part of that veil of secrecy. Still, with almost half a year of development left, this is one to look out for!